Diffusing the smell of relaxation
Lavender. What’s not to love about this plant? The scent, the colours and the soft feel of it are all just wonderful. It is renown for the therapeutic effects of the fragrant oil it produces.
Caring for my mother, who lived with dementia, I used lavender extensively both in her room and in hand creams for massages. It relaxed both of us!
When Mum moved into residential care I used lavender essential oil in a diffuser in her room. It created a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere that the staff loved as well as Mum and other residents. The latter was a slight problem – as Mum did not take kindly to other residents entering her room uninvited!
Essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes throughout the history of mankind. Before we could distill or manufacture, we burned or boiled oil bearing leaves and flowers to make them release their scent. Herbal remedies are part of folk lore – many are now being discovered to have some scientific basis for the effects that have been perceived for centuries.
Aroma therapy is one way that we can contribute to the well being of elderly people, especially those with dementia. Fragrant oils provide a stimulus for the brain as well as pleasantly scenting a care setting. Mum enjoyed hand “pamper” sessions and I frequently found myself performing massages on a whole group of ladies. The social gathering that spontaneously happened around Mum and I during our activity led to much laughter and sharing of dollops of scented hand cream. It was indulgent. It made everyone feel special. It was a dose of normality as well as a treat! I very much hope that, as dementia care becomes more widely talked about, emotional well being will one day be seen as just as important as the practical aspects of physical care.
The sense of smell is directly connected to the parts of the brain that are responsible for memories and feelings. It is a natural connection then, that when the scent of essential oils are breathed in they stimulate these parts of the brain and influence your emotional health.
Scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Hence the traditional use of Lavender Scented pillows. Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety. In one study, people who received massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than those who received massage alone. There have been several small studies that suggest that lavender aromatherapy may help reduce agitation in people with dementia – though too small to be statistically significant, I very much hope that we can encourage greater use of scent, particularly lavender to soothe and bring pleasure to people living with dementia.
Some scientists have said that lavender stimulates brain activity in the amygdala in a similar way to some sedative medications!